“Shivraj Singh Chouhan ran the government better than I did,” former Madhya Pradesh chief minister and BJP national vice-president Uma Bharti told journalists in Bhopal a few days ago.
The statement, coming from once arch rival of Chouhan (54) whom the sadhvi had once described as “Bachcha chor” in 2005 for “usurping the government” she had formed, may have stemmed from certain political compulsions on her part, yet the maverick leader’s words cannot be brushed off as just another bid to patch up with Chouhan.
BJP patriarch LK Advani saw a better CM and future prime minister in him than Gujarat CM Narendra Modi. “Though Modi’s development of Gujarat is impressive, Chouhan managed to turn around a poorer state. Chouhan’s lack of arrogance has shades of iconic leader Atal Behari Vajpayee,” Advani told BJP workers at Gwalior in June, before the party finally chose Modi for PM.
From Jait to Bhopal
Chouhan’s first political act was when he was still in the village school. He stood up to his family and relatives for their farm labourers’ rights.
Moving to Bhopal for further studies brought Chouhan in contact with RSS leaders like Meghraj Jain, Laxminarayan Sharma, Sunderlal Patwa and Kailash Sarang. And at the age of 17, the student union leader was jailed for leading an anti-Emergency movement. “I was the youngest MISA detainee. But the police did not show mercy in beating me with lathis,” Chouhan has recounted many times.
Walking to flying
After his release from jail, Chouhan formally joined the RSS as a swayamsevak. He held several posts in the student and youth wings of the BJP. He was given the party ticket for the 1990 state assembly elections from Budhni, his home turf, which he snatched from the Congress with a 22,000 plus margin of votes.
The ‘Paon paon waale bhaiya’ (The leader who walks) was ready to fly. Chouhan has not looked back since he won the Vidisha by-election in 1991.